Social Networking: The End of Web Search?

An article by Glenn Derene at Popular Mechanics made waves today with its first sentence: Search is dead. The thesis, formulated during a discussion with an anonymous venture capitalist, is that search engines of the future will not be used for pure information gathering and consumption, but rather will index users’ online footprint data to tailor customized results. These results will go beyond just utilizing browsing history to deliver results, as Google and Yahoo already attempt to do, but will also incorporate information from Web 2.0 applications, like a Facebook friend’s movie recommendation, for example. In Glenn’s words:

“But what may turn out to be the strongest signal of all is the footprint you make with your online identity. Consider how much information you voluntarily provide on your Facebook profile. Now imagine if you could combine that with your Netflix renting and Amazon buying habits. Then throw in the suggestions of your friends and the pages you visit the most often. All those various sources of information about you are currently stored in different locations—on your computer’s browser history, on your Facebook page, on the servers for Netflix and Amazon—but just imagine how accurate a search could be if every time you had a query, the mass of data about you that exists on the Internet could inform the results.”

While the idea is not entirely original, it predictably has spawned a great deal of debate. One counterargument was posed by Greg Sterling at SearchEngineLand:

“And while it’s very true that word-of-mouth has moved online and people care very much about what their friends and other contacts think about things, those “recommendations” are not a substitute for search. Indeed, I recently spoke the other day to one of the founders of Socialight, an internet and mobile-social network. One of the interesting things the company has discovered through experience is that people don’t just care about their networks’ recommendations. It turns out — and this is common sense — that expert and top-down editorial content matter equally and in some cases more than what their friends may think.”

Alexander van Elsa points out a couple more issues on his blog:

“Why would such an attempt fail half of the times (or something in that order)? Because it doesn’t take human behavior into account. There are at least two barriers that can hardly be overcome by any computer algorithm or data hog system. First of all, on-line I’m not who I really am off-line. On-line people can have multiple identities, lie about themselves, provide us with profiles that look better than real life… Secondly, a computer algorithm can hardly interpret my mood of the day. Depending on how I feel, what I have experienced earlier, what I’m about to do in the future, the coffee I had for breakfast, etc, etc, I might be looking for different things when I type “I am looking for a car” in the search bar. Chances are that by taking into account my profile information, social graph, interactions on Facebook or any other social network, the “social search” algorithm will be way off.”

While most people will agree that search giants Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo are here to stay for a while longer, there’s no denying that a search engine that could seamlessly combine information and expert recommendations from the web with the preferences of your circle of friends would be an attractive proposition. Perhaps Udi Manber, Google’s vice president of search, phrases it best:

“Search has always been about people. It’s about getting people what they need. The art of ranking is one of taking lots of signals and putting them together. Signals from your friends are better, stronger signals.”


4 Responses to “Social Networking: The End of Web Search?”

  1. Social Networking: The End of Web Search? · Buwin Technology

    […] Content Management (CMS) News, Reviews, Resources – CMSWire wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt […]

  2. Patrick Lord

    Building in social and behavioural data into searches is always a tantalising idea, but frankly there has to be a ton of data pulled together to have a good chance of working. Many of my friends’ opinions help me steer clear of certain products but go for others. So now you need a by-friend-by product breakdown of preferences. Now what if I want a present for my wife rather than for me? My friend’s opinions will be different on that subject too. We can add many more criteria; and you can start to see how this will massively complicate the quest for the ultimate search engine. In my opinion, you still need people to select the type of search results they’re looking for in advance. Use a mapping / directory service for location results, a shopping recommendation service for shopping, a friend-finder to find your friends and do dating, etc. Each service will be optimised for the type of results you want.

  3. turn off yahoo information bar

    […] history to deliver results, as Google and yahoo already attempt to do, but will also incorporate … free is &quotfree&quot? Is the future really free? It seems we’ve entered an age where there’s a […]


Leave a Reply